#TBR Challenge 2024

I’ll be participating in the #TBRChallenge from Wendy the Super Librarian once again!

Themes for this year are:
January 17, Once More With Feeling: Territory by Emma Bull.
February 21, Furry Friends: The Wider Worlds of Jim Henson, edited by Jennifer C. Garlen and Anissa M. Graham.
March 20, Not in Kansas Anymore: Was by Geoff Ryman.
April 17, No Place Like Home: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin.
May 15, With a Little Help From My Friends: My Dear Watson by L.A. Fields.
June 19, Bananapants!: Cathy’s Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233 by Sean Stewart.
July 17, What a Wonderful World: The White Mosque: A Memoir by Sofia Samatar.
August 21, Everyday Heroes: Dancing Bearfoot by Elva Birch.
September 18, Drama!: Blackout by Connie Willis.
October 16, Spooky (Gothic): All Clear by Connie Willis.
November 20, It Came From the 1990s!: Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader’s Companion by J. Daniel Gifford and James Gifford.
December 18, It’s a Party!: TBA.

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Welcome to Refuge!

This is the official website of writer Victoria Janssen, author of A Place of Refuge, is science fiction #hopepunk following three former guerillas who lose their fight against a fascist empire but escape to a utopian planet. They’re figuring out what’s next with the aid of pastries, therapy, and other people. A Place of Refuge is now available in an omnibus edition with extras. New! Dissenter Rebellion: The Rattri Extraction, a Refuge prequel.

Victoria is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association and serves on the Romance Steering Committee.

You can also find these novellas at Goodreads, StoryGraph, and LibraryThing.

Email: victoriajanssen@victoriajanssen.com.

Social Media:
Romancelandia at Mastodon.
Wandering Shop at Mastodon.
Facebook Author Page.

Last update: 01 October 2023.

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#TBR Challenge – No Place Like Home: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

I don’t live in New York City, but I’m close enough and I’ve been there enough that I felt The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (2020) worked for this month’s theme, No Place Like Home. The book expands on the story “The City Born Great” from Jemisin’s 2018 collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month?; in altered form, that story serves as a prologue.

The conceit is that cities will sometimes, rarely, achieve sentience. When they do, creepy other-dimensional predators await to battle and often destroy them. In the world of the book, for example, New Orleans’ birth and then loss to the predatory manifestation is represented by Hurricane Katrina. It’s a cool idea, but I found the end of the book a little unsatisfying. Presumably the sequel, The World We Make (2022) gives a greater sense of resolution to the story.

When the initial avatar of New York City is incapacitated, the city manifests in five New Yorkers who anthropomorphize the five boroughs on New York City, plus one more avatar, and they must work together to fight (explicitly) Lovecraftian horrors and evils such as racism, sexual abuse, and white supremacy; Jemisin stated some of the manifestations symbolize gentrification. Each of the avatars has their own special ability, and made me wonder if this book would be suitable to be turned into a comic or a video game.

I’d be interested to see if there are any academic studies of the fictional sub-genre in which real-life cities exhibit magical sentience. In reading this, I was reminded of the following books I read years ago, that give magical life to London, though not in the same way as Jemisin’s work: The City’s Son by Tom Pollock (2012) and the series beginning with A Madness of Angels: Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift by Kate Griffin (2009).

The City We Became won a British Science Fiction Association award and a Locus Award.

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My March Reading Log

The Frame-Up by Gwenda Bond is a paranormal heist novel set in contemporary Kentucky. Danielle Poissant is the daughter of a renowned art thief whom she helped send to prison, which led to her being shut out of the world of criminals with magic in which she’d grown up. Wracked by guilt at betraying her family (it’s complicated), ever since then she’s been working as a sort of one-person-and one-dog “Leverage” team, retrieving funds from scummy people and splitting them with the original victim – while not using her magical gift for forging paintings. But then, of course, she’s dragged back into the world for One Last Time by an old partner of her mother’s. The romance element is minor, but I felt like there was just enough to spice up the heist plot. This was a lot of fun, and dog fans will love Dani’s collie Sunflower, who is a Very Good Girl.

Due Diligence: Settling Affairs (Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle Book 20) by L. A. Hall and Succession: Marriages & Funerals (Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle Book 21) by L. A. Hall continue to be very soothing reading as things are set right via clever contrivances and newer characters become more active.

Demon Daughter by Lois McMaster Bujold is the latest Penric and Desdemona novella, exploring what happens when a six year old child on a Roknari ship, Otta, acquires an almost brand-new demon/elemental from a rat…and accidentally sets some things on fire. The rest of the story follows Penric, his wife Nikys, and their family as they take care of the stranded Otta and Otta decides what she wants. Family is more complicated than it appears on the surface.

Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent by Judi Dench and Brendan O’Hea grew out of a series of interviews O’Hea intended for archival purposes, about Dench’s memories of all her Shakespeare roles. After her grandson overhead them talking, the idea arose to turn their talks into a book, which was a great idea. I enjoyed reading this so very much I didn’t want it to end, and now I’ve realized I should probably find a production of Cymbeline and watch it, as well as the rest of the Henry plays. This is a chatty book (since it originated as actual chatting between old friends) that also is supremely informative about how this particular actor interpreted her parts, and her philosophy on the art of acting, and what she learned from her various mentors. I loved that she would sometimes say she wished she’d play a certain part differently if she did it now. There’s also a fair few anecdotes about productions and working with different directors and actors. If you’re into theatre, or into Shakespeare, or just interested in an entertaining person talking, definitely check this out.

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge is the sort of nonfiction which intersperses selected summations and quotes from memoirs and diaries with the census and labor statistics, so it was more of an armchair journey than an academic slog. I thought I would be most interested in the Edwardian material but it turned out I was more fascinated by the slow decrease and eventual near-disappearance of servanting as a lifelong career and social class; I also was intrigued by specialized modern agencies that provide factotums and butlers to the very rich, or for special occasions. I want to read more about that; let me know if you have any recommendations. Someone should write a contemporary with a butler protagonist, perhaps falling in love with a bodyguard or a chef.

They’re Gonna Give You Hell by unlimitedInk is an epic Mandalorian farce that also has some important found family and leadership themes. Shortly after dropping off Grogu with Luke Skywalker, Din Djarin missed him painfully and goes to mope around Tatooine. I’m not sure how much to spoil of this, but I’ll just say a swathe of different Mandalorian sects become involved in trying to figure out who will lead them and where they will go, a couple of unexpected sentiences are revealed, more than one Armourer shows up, and Boba Fett is grumpy. If you are a Bo Katan fan, don’t read this one.

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair by tigriswolf is a very sweet Winter Soldier story; shortly after freeing himself from Hydra, he encounters an asthmatic child who’s run away from abuse and immediately becomes protective, which leads to him slowly recovering himself and learning to be a person again, while putting the child first. He and his adoptive daughter make their own family and make a home; only then is able to bring Steve Rogers back into his lift.

Dark Side of the Moon by imogenbynight is a Supernatural AU in which Dean Winchester and Castiel Novak are astronauts. Dean, an engineer, is on the moon when an unthinkable tragedy happens and he needs rescue; Castiel is part of the rescue crew. Aside from being able to travel back and forth to the moon without orbital constraints, this is a somewhat realistic space story, with some spooky parts in the middle.

An Ever-Fixed Mark by AMarguerite is an epic Soulmark AU of Pride and Prejudice in which Elizabeth Bennet’s soulmark reads “Fitzwilliam.” And she marries Colonel Fitzwilliam, who in this story is terrific, but fair warning, he dies of a wound, and then, slowly, Elizabeth comes to realize she a second happy marriage might be possible. I enjoyed this a lot and did I mention it’s epic? Buckle up, it’s a long ride in a bumpy carriage with lots of intriguing meta examination of Soulmarks and the various ways they could be interpreted.

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#TBR Challenge – Not in Kansas Anymore: Was by Geoff Ryman

My choice for the Not in Kansas Anymore theme is Was by Geoff Ryman (1992), which I feel is perfect because it plays directly with The Wizard of Oz, both book and movie, and the making of the movie as well. There’s no actual fantasy, only historical realism. The fantasy element is what the characters wish they had, or once had and lost long ago.

This book sat on my TBR shelf for so long mostly because I feared it would be depressing. I did, in fact, find this book depressing, and difficult to read. Warnings for child sexual abuse, offstage animal death, suicide.

As with all of Ryman’s work, it’s skillfully written. There are three main threads set in different time periods: first, actor Jonathan, in the late 1980s, has given up a role as the Scarecrow because he is dying of AIDS; instead, he’s trying to locate the historical Dorothy in Kansas, and uses Oz as a visualization with his therapist. In 1875, Dorothy is an orphaned child sent to live with relatives in Kansas after her mother and sibling die from diptheria, where she is abused and suffers in various ways I won’t detail here. Finally, Frances Gumm (Judy Garland) is depicted first as a small child and then during the making of the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, through the eyes of Millie, her fictional makeup artist. The characters are complex; their journeys are exhausting. I think it’s a good novel, but a challenging one. I was not really up for the challenge.

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My February Reading Log

I have belatedly read The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett, and wow did it have a lot more going on than I was expecting even though, this being Pratchett, I should have expected themes such as the What Is the Meaning of Life, What Happens to Us When We Die, and Nothing Can Be Solved Unless People Talk to Each Other. And on top of all that, The Importance of Stories is a major theme. Basically, some rats near Unseen University gain speech and intelligence after eating magical detritus from the wizards’ trash heap; together with Maurice the cat who’s also been Changed, they end up working with a human boy to run a scam in which the rats invade a town and the boy, for a fee, pipes them out of town. The boy and the rats are tired of the scam but they agree to One Last Score…except something is weird about this town. There are no keekees (rats who have not been Changed) yet there’s famine because rats have supposedly eaten all the stored food. This turns out to be a convoluted plot which it takes everyone to figure out, including the story-obsessed mayor’s daughter. Recommended.

The Building of the House by kvikindi is set in the X-Men movieverse after X-Men: Apocalypse, and is a terrific interpretation of Peter Maximoff’s speed powers through narrative style. Peter is the pov character and his breathless very very long digressive sentences, skimming along the surface of truths he doesn’t want to admit to himself, are just brilliant. Peter’s finally met his father, who is a grim supervillain; what is he going to do about it?

the wires for empathy by napricot is a slow burn romance and road trip story about The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. They work at finding ways to use super powers for making things better without punching people; replacing destruction with community. It’s great.

stop the world (for a moment) by azurewaxwing for thievinghippo is an ice skating AU of the Chinese show The Untamed, which I haven’t seen in its entirety; I am sure I missed some in-jokes. Set in the modern day, Lan Zhan is a popular erudite figure skating commentator whom the network has unexpectedly paired with motormouthed former skater Wei Ying. The near-opposites turn out to work well together. I particularly enjoyed how they practice together by commenting on other sports.

A Series of Unfortunate Collisions by Scourge_of_Nemo is a Star Wars AU in which bounty hunter reality shows are a thing. Hardscrabble hunter Din Djarin, striving to support his adoptive son Grogu and the children of his covert, only slowly realizes he’s in a slow burn romance with major figure Boba Fett. I always like seeing art from the artist’s side, and I loved that Fennec Shand’s editing skills are highly valued.

My Heart Will Be Your Home by dr_girlfriend is a sweet Avengers AU and Bucky Barnes/Clint Barton romance. Clint had left the spy life behind when he and his wife Bobbi Morse had a child; now divorced, he’s a single father who helps out the Avengers in the midst of an attack. It’s a sweet story about two people with a lot of regrets and pain learning to move forward.

Not a Second Time by FaustianSlip is an epic M.A.S.H. sequel, set during the Vietnam War. B.J. Hunnicutt has not been in touch with Hawkeye Pierce since they left Korea, and he also hasn’t told Hawkeye why. Drama ensues when Hawkeye’s elderly father dies and, overwhelmed by loneliness and loss, he enlists in the Army. Margaret Houlihan tells B.J., who realizes he can’t suppress his feelings any more. This story had a very old school slash feel, with some excellent historical detail, and a lot of same-sex relationships playing out despite the less-welcoming time period.

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#TBR Challenge – Furry Friends: The Wider Worlds of Jim Henson, edited by Jennifer C. Garlen and Anissa M. Graham

The Wider Worlds of Jim Henson, edited by Jennifer C. Garlen and Anissa M. Graham is a collection of essays about various Jim Henson productions. I am huge fan of Henson’s work, but managed never to see Fraggle Rock because I didn’t have HBO; I learned a lot about the show from this book!

Some of the essays, I was surprised to note, treated the worldbuilding in a meta fashion, for instance comparing ways to “read” Fraggle Rock and The Dark Crystal through various lenses, including ecological, postcolonial, or Marxist criticism (but concluding, as makes the most sense, that to interpret them as fantasy narratives is the best method). Another essay whimsically explores the beings of Fraggle Rock realistically as part of an ecosystem. Labyrinth and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas are also represented in the collection, though not as much as Fraggle Rock.

There’s an essay on The Jim Henson Hour, which I never was able to see in its entirety, that gave me a renewed desire to see the episodes I missed. I especially enjoyed reading more about the Henson Company’s work on Dinosaurs, about which I knew practically nothing despite having seen a few key episodes, and the alien puppets on Farscape, a show I love.

I can see myself revisiting some of these essays as I watch and rewatch Henson’s work, and I continue to feel that he died far too soon.

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My January Reading Log

Roux for Two by Aurora Rey was a cute, lowkey contemporary romance between a fat queer femme and a trans man. Chef Chelsea Boudreaux has just gotten her own show, which will be filmed in the small south Louisiana town she left behind; her career is about to take off and take her places. College academic advisor Bryce Cormier has lived in the same town with his loving family for his whole life and never plans to move anywhere else; he longs for a partner and, eventually, children. Their unspoken high school crushes are revived when Chelsea comes back to town, and friendship turns to attraction turns to a red-hot relationship. Conflict arises, of course, but it’s gentle and resolved by the characters using their words. I enjoyed this a lot and would read more by this author.

My January TBR Challenge book was Territory by Emma Bull.

Some Honorable Deed by Maykenfan is a Vorkosiverse Alternate Universe in which Aral Vorkosigan returns to Beta Colony with Cordelia instead of returning to Barrayar after the death of Prince Serg. They’re settled in, Aral’s in therapy, and they’ve banked embryos when Simon Illyan arrives to inform them of the death of Emperor Ezar. Aral becomes Regent, but while some major events adhere to canon, many others don’t. I enjoyed this in the way I usually enjoy AUs, especially the relationships that played out differently due to the branching-off point, and more characters living through the story than in canon. Padma Vorpatril lives, and his relationship with Aral is a delight.

Mutants and Mutants by Ecarden is what I call a “puzzle” story; the author explores how a character from one series, in this case Simon Illyan from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosiverse, might handle the issue of a corrupt organization, the Mutant Response Division, if alone in the Marvel Comics world. As this crossover would never have occurred to me, I’m finding it very interesting! Illyan unceremoniously arrives in a warehouse, accidentally summoned by a young mutant not in control of her powers. From there the story becomes an infiltration procedural of reforming an organization from the inside. Characterization is less a priority than following the steps needed to keep what’s useful while chipping away at anti-mutant prejudice.

Perception Check (Roll for Romance) by kaydeefalls for Prinzenhasserin is a hilarious follow-up to the Dungeons and Dragons movie, in which narrator Edgin keeps running into immaculate paladin Xenk.

A Universe Next Door by aliset is a post Captain America: Civil War series set in Wakanda which I continued reading this month. In the third story, “As He Paints, He is Looking at His Heart” can be read without the previous stories, but is better if you know the setting. There’s some cool speculation about Wakandan art as Steve and Bucky work towards recovery.

The Lost of Winter by Fiona15351 for mazily is set in The Goblin Emperor universe, and follows Thara Celehar after the ending of the most recent book; the plot includes a budding romance and some days in the life.

Anamnesis by linman is for Simon Illyan fans; it’s a collection of missing scenes from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Memory all relating to the memory loss Simon experiences in that book, and how he adjusts afterwards. If you haven’t read the book, this story probably won’t make sense, but if you have, I found it beautiful.

unless you play it good and right by trell (qunlat) is a Vorkosiverse slash casefic in which Ivan Vorpatril accompanies Byerly Vorrutyer on a mission for ImpSec, while pondering how to tell By that both he and his Jacksonian wife are interested in a romantic relationship if By is also interested. By, of course, is also pining for Ivan but feels he’s now off-limits because he’s married. It all works out great in the end.

The Blood in Your Veins by Aelaer is a Marvel universe alternate universe that sets up the beginning of a Tony Stark/Stephen Strange relationship. Mostly, however, it’s about Hollywood science, being held captive, and then escaping. Set during Tony’s palladium poisoning in Iron Man 2, he’s been captured by the Ten Rings. An assortment of doctors, including pov character Strange, have been kidnapped to keep him alive. Strange is early in his career and is characterized as lonely and socially awkward but still confident in his abilities; he develops connections with the other doctors. Content warning for one upsetting death of an original character.

Our Guard (a docu-holo sponsored by the Coruscant Communications Bureau) by FortinbrasFTW is yet another Star Wars fixit for the events of The Clone Wars. Point of view character Fox, head of the Coruscant Guard, is being followed around by a camera droid when he accidentally causes what he thinks is a disaster but of course is really, really not. I enjoyed how The Force was portrayed in this story as well as the ins and outs of how the war is ended.

the ship in port is the safer one (but it’s not the reason it was made) by KiaraSayre is a direct sequel to the first AU Star Trek movie (with Chris Pine). What happens when a recent cadet is placed in charge of a starship? While their first mission is simple, the many problems a captain must solve are not. This story is all about problem-solving and learning experiences, so I enjoyed it a lot.

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#TBR Challenge – Once More With Feeling: Territory by Emma Bull

Territory by Emma Bull, in the fantasy sub-genre now called Weird West, was published in 2007. I bought it immediately in hardcover because I loved previous books by Bull…but then it sat in the TBR because I wasn’t very interested in the town of Tombstone and the OK Corral, which it seemed the story was about. I am pleased to report that the book is not actually about the OK Corral. Various Earps are everywhere (Wyatt, Virgil, Morgan, Jim, etc.) as well as subsidiary pov character Doc Holliday, but I confess I was much more interested in the original characters.

Warning: this post includes plot spoilers. If you do not like plot spoilers, and plan to read this book, click away.

The fantasy elements are slow to emerge. The story is more about the vividly portrayed mining town of Tombstone in 1880, a Stranger Who Comes to Town, and a lot of fascinating women, with swirling tensions surrounding the Earps in the background. The magical element is linked to the stranger, Jesse Fox, and his friend and mentor Chow Lung. The female point of view character, widow Mildred Benjamin, and the women she encounters (Kate Holliday, and several of the Mrs. Earps among them) are what caught my attention, however. I wanted a lot more about them. Jesse is a cipher at first; I didn’t find him interesting until he began bantering with mercurial Chow Lung, and was not pleased when, much later, Lung was killed, leaving Jesse a bit lopsided.

Mildred intrigued me from the start. She works as a typesetter at a local newspaper, where the editor, it’s clear to the reader if not to Mildred, thinks she should be a reporter. After selling a romantic adventure story to a magazine, Mildred researches and writes her first story for the paper; her experiences of receiving a response to her story, and having her first effort at journalism edited, were my favorite scenes in the novel. I also loved seeing her friendship with Mrs. Austerberg, wife of the local shopkeeper, and her growing relationships with other women in the town.

Jesse first denying and finally embracing his magical abilities were a reasonable arc, but I felt the fantasy element as a whole felt vaguely unfinished, possibly because the OK Corral battle, which I had assumed would be the climax of the book, did not happen. It looked to be on the horizon, but seemed an odd omission unless another book or books was planned to follow. I was left slightly unsatisfied overall, but glad that I’d finally gotten around to the book.

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HEA Quest!

Calling all fantasy and science-fiction romance writers! Join the SFWA-sponsored HEA Quest on Saturday, January 20th, 2024, 9AM – 12PM PT, for a virtual meet-up featuring three panels of writers, editors, and experts in the industry. This is a great place for traditional, hybrid, and indie romance writers to hear from experts in the industry, get inspired, ask questions, and get to know other authors.

Click this link to view the meet-up schedule, featured speakers, and to register. Just $10 will grant you access for the three online panels and breakout rooms. 2023 Nebula Conference Attendees: You have already paid for this meetup! Please do not register on this page. Please visit HEA Quest – Nebula Awards Conference Online (sfwa.org) for instructions on how to RSVP your attendance.

We’ll have three stellar panels of industry experts covering topics of importance to writers and breakout rooms at the end for networking and community building. If you write any combination of speculative fiction and romance, this meetup is for you!

9:00-12:00 – Panels
12:00-1:00 – Social time and Networking

Editor Roundtable: 9:00 AM
Liz Pellitier, Entangled Publishing
Monique Patterson, Bramble
Melissa Frain, Melissa Frain Editorial

Burnout and Time Management: 10:00 AM
Sarra Cannon, Heart Breathings
Becca Syme, Better Faster Academy

Marketing through Newsletters: 11:00 AM
Tammi Labreque, Newsletter Ninja
Kilby Blades
A.M. Lau, Pomegranate Authors

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My December Reading Log

Bookshops and Bonedust by Travis Baldree is a prequel to Legends and Lattes, set early in orc narrator Viv’s career as a mercenary. When she’s sidelined in a small town by a leg wound, boredom leads her to make new friends and try new experiences in a way that will influence her later in life, after she retires and opens a coffee shop. So, basically, it’s very similar to Legends and Lattes, and if you liked that one, you will very likely enjoy this one as well. I actually liked it a bit better because of the deft commentary on genre books and reading and what those things do for us as people. It was soothing and hopeful. Recommended.

Far from the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson is a murder mystery set on a spaceship that starts out slow and then grows steadily weirder. I enjoyed it a lot, mostly because it didn’t follow patterns I expected. The worldbuilding includes interstellar travel, but no massive empires, only isolated habitats and colony worlds that rely on AI pilots and sentient “artificials” who are often in humanoid form. There’s an underlying theme of the harm capitalism can cause, and the results of unchecked power attained without compassion. Content warning for a bit of gore and being trapped on a spaceship you can’t trust.

My TBR Challenge book for December was Coming Home for Christmas by Carla Kelly.

The Good Neighbors by author Holly Black and artist Ted Naifeh is a series of three short young adult graphic novels: Kin, Kith, and Kind. The art is black and white and very Goth-y in style, which suits a creepy, atmospheric story of dark Faerie intruding on the mortal world. When the first installment opens, teenaged Rue’s mother has been missing for several weeks and her father is in a stupor of depression; Rue’s shocked when he’s accused of murdering one of his students as well as her mother, a mystery which is not entirely solved until much later. Rue sometimes sees strange beings invisible to others; of course it turns out she has faerie blood, and with her boyfriend and two other closest friends, is soon caught up in trying to prevent an incursion of immortals. As usual with Black, the teenagers are vividly realistic with complex problems resonating with the supernatural plotline.

New Lands for the Living by SassySnowperson is an alternate universe for the original Star Wars series, branching off from a disastrous future in which the First Order causes a devastating famine. Poe Dameron is sent back through time via something something The Force, and ends up meeting Luke Skywalker, aged 18, on Tatooine. In order to obtain legal documents, despite Poe’s misgivings, they get married. Luke is willing to consummate the marriage; Poe, much older and with secrets about the future, is not, at least not until Luke is older. This story is a combination of arranged marriage pining and fixit fic, with added interest from Poe discovering though he’s lost the life he had, a new life with new choices lies ahead. It was sweet and hopeful, and showed how the changes Poe made resonate down the years.

to ask about loyalty by tasara_bokka is a Vorkosiverse story from Ivan Vorpatril’s point of view, set in the period just before Miles and Ekaterin’s wedding. I really liked how the author showed Ivan’s loyalty and love for his family as well as his honed social skills, for which he doesn’t seem to get much credit while in the shadow of others. I always enjoy seeing exploration of how a secondary character might have reacted to major plot events, when we didn’t see it in canon. This writer has stories in Russian as well as English, some of which might tie into this one, but I’m not sure.

Sure On This Shining Night by Ellidfics is an Avengers story using mostly comics canon about Superhero Registration (Civil War) with a lot of cross-gender casting; nobody dies, though one character is at risk of it throughout. The thing I loved most was how the author reworked the history of a woman Captain America to fit into what that might have been like historically. Also, there’s a Nero Wolfe series Easter Egg that made me grin. Content warning for creepy Hydra breeding program business that does not come to fruition, but has some scary moments.

Order of Operations by Beckala is another story in which nobody dies, though at first it appears the Avengers are wiped out. A newly-freed Winter Soldier is sent to protect Darcy Lewis; he starts to evade his Hydra programming while they’re on the run. This story is a romance more than an action story, a sort of arranged marriage except it’s Hydra programming and Darcy’s scruples keeping them apart, at least at first. There are quite a few romantic sex scenes. I enjoyed how Darcy uses computer and shooting skills taught to her by her Avengers friends to take part in bringing down Hydra, and how Bucky uses his training for violence to keep them safe.

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